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By Stuart Carapola on 2011-05-04 10:00:00
We're starting to head down the home stretch, and when we last left off WCW had blown their lead big time with the oversaturation of the NWO and the immensely poor booking of the long-awaited Sting-Hogan match at Starrcade 97, and followed it up with an equally poorly handled first loss for Bill Goldberg at Starrcade 98. On the other hand, the WWF was riding high on the momentum of the Austin-McMahon feud and DX, they had turned the tide of the ratings battle and still had plenty up their sleeve going into 1999 while WCW scrambled to find something to stop the bleeding.


We don't waste any time getting right into the meat, as January 4th was a big night for both companies that saw both World Titles change hands. On Raw, Mick Foley defeated the Rock to win the WWF Title, getting a H-U-G-E reaction from the crowd, while Nitro featured the infamous Fingerpoke Of Doom angle. For those who haven't heard the story, Kevin Nash had come out the night after Starrcade and said he saw the tape and agreed that Bill Goldberg got screwed and offered to give him a rematch on the January 4th Nitro. Before the match happened, the cops came and arrested Goldberg (with the story being that Miss Elizabeth had accused him of threatening to attack her) to the dismay of Kevin Nash, but to the amusement of Hulk Hogan.

Hogan had "retired" a few months earlier to run for President (a stupid play on Jesse Ventura getting elected Governor of Minnesota), but just happened to be backstage as all this was going down. Nash told him that if he thought it was so funny, maybe he'd find it funny to take Goldberg's place and get his ass kicked. Hogan took him up on it, of course, and when the match happened, they circled one another for a few second before Hogan poked him in the chest, Nash went down like a ton of bricks, and Hogan covered him for three to regain the WCW World Title. Turns out the whole thing was a ploy to reform a single NWO and get the belt back on Hogan, and when Goldberg finally made it back to the arena after Elizabeth's accusations proved false, he was on the receiving end of a beatdown from the NWO.

The whole WCW side of the evening was completely ridiculous, made worse by the fact that they tried to get everybody to tune into Nitro by having Tony Schiavone give away the result of the Foley title win and make a joke about how Cactus Jack as champion will put asses in seats. Stuff like that worked for them at the beginning, but this time it caused a huge amount of viewers to flip from Nitro to Raw because they cared more about seeing Foley win, killing WCW's rating for the night and sending Raw's through the roof. Foley talks about how the line by Schiavone ruined his night because he had destroyed himself for WCW, but it got better when the 300,000 or so people flipped to Raw to watch his title win before going back to WCW for the last five minutes.

Tactics like this were making Eric Bischoff's job tougher, and he talks about how it was becoming increasingly difficult to deal with the higher up. He admitted that he was getting tough to deal with, but things were getting tough all around because so many people had creative control that no one person was in charge. Chris Benoit and Ric Flair discuss how this made it impossible to know what was going on, and Gene Okerlund pointed out how the format often wasn't written until 10 minutes before the show and what a mistake the creative control clauses were.

This increasingly bad working environment started driving the talent to the WWF, with Big Show saying he got out when he could because he saw the ship sinking, and while WCW was taking all the old WWF guys, Vince was picking up the younger WCW stars who couldn't get a break. Chris Jericho talks about how he made the decision to leave a full year before his contract was up because WCW had no organization and they were so far behind the WWF that they were like black and white while the WWF was color, and he couldn't imagine what it was like for people going the other way and leaving the WWF for WCW.

I have no doubt that Big Show would have been fine even if he had stayed in WCW, he was always a featured star and was in tight with Hogan, who was always the one really running the show. Jericho, on the other hand, went out of his way to try and get over any way he could. After coming in as a talented but bland youngster, he morphed into the smartass Cruiserweight Champion doing the "Man of 1004 Holds" thing and was the first one to bring a real story arc to the Cruiserweight division, which had traditionally just been about the workrate. When Goldberg was getting hot, he started actively campaigning for a match with Goldberg and would repeatedly call him out on TV, but there were never any plans to put him in the ring with Goldberg. Jericho even said he'd gladly lay down for him if they could at least just put him in the ring with Goldberg, but it wouldn't happen. Sensing that he was never going to break the glass ceiling, Jericho made the decision to leave, got buried for a few months and then was held off TV completely for the final few months of his contract.

Bischoff talks about how history had been changed to make it look like he spent all those years just throwing away a billionaire's money, but he actually took a company from losing 10 million a year to earning 50 million a year. He would fight some of the higher level executives because he thought he'd always have Ted Turner backing him up, but when Turner found himself cast out of power after the Time Warner merger, Harvey Schiller called him up in September and sent him home and he spent a month and a half fly fishing in Colorado.

It's true that he made WCW profitable for a few years during his run, but a lot of the moves he made to get there ended up costing him in the long run, such as the big money contracts with creative control. Having guys like Hogan, Hall and Nash took WCW to a level it had never reached before, but all that creative control made it impossible for them to book anything decent because nobody wanted to look the slightest bit bad, and when profits went down because the product had gotten so bad, he was still on the hook for those contracts. He also made other questionable moves like bringing in music acts and even down to his infamous "new leather coat in every city" habit, so when WCW suddenly came under scrutiny by the new owners, there's no way you could slice it and not expect some things were going to change.

WCW's next move after canning Bischoff was to hire away the WWF's lead writers, Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, and bring them in to book WCW with the idea that they'd take WCW to the same level they had taken the WWF. Instead, we got stuff like Ferrara as Oklahoma (a mean spirited jab at Jim Ross) and Chavo Guerrero selling watches on Monday Nitro, and Benoit says he quickly realized that Russo didn't bring what he said to the table. Mean Gene makes the point I was getting ready to make myself, which was that they didn't have a Vince McMahon to control their creative juices, while Flair talks about how he laughed when Russo tried to convince everyone that he made the WWF what it was.

Everything Benoit, Gene, and Flair said was the absolute truth, Russo and Ferrara worked because Vince was using the ideas that he liked and throwing out the stuff he didn't. Russo and Ferrara were given free reign in WCW, leading to a schizophrenic product with no coherent storytelling and full of increasingly stupid storylines and match stipulations. Even if they could write a good product, they were still handicapped by the contracts and creative control, as well as the fact that TNT was a very different network than USA and they wouldn't be able to get away with a lot of the stuff they were doing on Raw. They expressed their frustration with this by repackaging the Harris brothers as a group called Creative Control, whose job it was to come out and destroy anything cool. You can see why there were flashing neon signs with alarm bells ringing that this wasn't going to work.

Interestingly, the 1999 section focuses almost exclusively on WCW even though the WWF had a really big year themselves. There was a lot to discuss that year in the WWF: Triple H's rise from midcard leader of DX to winning his first World Title and becoming the top heel in the company, the major setback of Steve Austin having to take a year off to get neck surgery, the series of matches between Edge & Christian and the Hardy Boyz that led into the infamous three way feud with the Dudleyz, the debut of Smackdown, Stephanie McMahon's introduction as a TV character, the debut of Kurt Angle, and they could have even talked about Vince winning the WWF Title if they wanted to do an ego stroke. Vince could have talked about how he wasn't worried about Russo & Ferrara leaving because he knew what they would do without him to filter them and how the WWF got even better after they left, or how the Turner-Time Warner merger that everyone thought would give WCW such a strong base ended up hurting WCW more than it helped.

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1999 was a hugely important year in the Monday Night Wars, because while the WWF had already turned the tables in the ratings war and wouldn't let up again until the end, they continued to set the building blocks that would carry them through the next few years. WCW knew they had lost a lot of momentum and were desperately trying every cheap trick and quick fix they could think of to turn things back in their favor, but none of it was working, and as we'll see in the fourth and final part of this series, the new millenium would only see them become more frantic and desperate.

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